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Before Kandi Burruss was the star of The Real Housewives of Atlanta, she was better known as an accomplished singer and songwriter — first breaking out in the ‘90s girl group Xscape, and then co-penning smash hits like P!nk’s debut single “There You Go,” Destiny’s Child’s “Bills, Bills, Bills,” and TLC’s “No Scrubs.” But her solo singing career, despite multiple attempts, never really took off. And as she drew hate on social media from trolling RHOA fans, she lost her mojo and put music on the back burner.
But after winning The Masked Singer Season 3, Burruss has gotten her groove back. She just dropped a new single, “Used to Love Me,” and she has some new songwriting projects in the works – plus she’s collecting big paychecks from her writing credits on recent tracks by Ed Sheeran and Ariana Grande.
The day after Burruss, a.k.a. the Night Angel, picked up her Golden Mask trophy, Yahoo Entertainment spoke with her about her career, her crisis of confidence, competing against Chaka Khan (a.k.a. Miss Monster), and the “guardian angel” that inspired her costume and watched over her Masked Singer run.
Yahoo Entertainment: Congratulations on winning The Masked Singer! You definitely earned that Golden Mask, but I was surprised by how many times on the show you confessed that you doubted yourself, considering that you’ve had such success in the music industry. Why were you insecure?
Kandi Burruss: Well, I think you can even Google it, where people have said, "Oh, Kandi can't sing” or “I hate her voice.” Because I have a heavy vibrato, people have said all kinds of mean things about my singing voice. And it just made me really not confident in my voice anymore. So I was feeling like, “OK, well, maybe it's not that good. And maybe my sound is just not hot for pop today.” I don't know what people were judging me by, because it's not like I've been really putting out any music lately. I don't know if it just because they were mad at me on the Housewives and stuff like that. But those criticisms started to really get in my mind.
You've written some huge songs. You were in a really big group. You have won Grammys. Do you think because you’re on The Real Housewives of Atlanta, there might be some people don't give you enough respect for your music career?
Honestly, I'm just going to keep it one hundred with you: I feel like being on the Housewives definitely sometimes dumbs down my accomplishments that I've had in other areas. And don't get me wrong, I love being a part of that show. I love being on Housewives, but because it's known for pettiness and drama, it kind of takes away from the legit accomplishments in my life. And sometimes because people are maybe not your fan — they may be the fan of somebody else [on Real Housewives] who may be my enemy, or whatever — they'll just attack me, or attack my accomplishments. Obviously we were at the reunion specials right now. So last Sunday, I had a big argument with one of my castmates. And so I see a couple of the comments [on social media] that are like, "Kandi is not that hot... She wasn't the only writer on that song."
And I'm like, "So, what are you trying to say? Are you trying to say they just put my name on track? How do you think that works?" It's kind of funny when I see stuff like that. Or even people going, "Oh, she can't sing.” And I'm like, "Well, realistically I haven't really been singing in years, so are you judging just because you don't like me on Housewives?” When I hear those negative comments, it does kind of play in my mind sometimes, to where I can start second-guessing myself. Even though I know that I've done a lot of things, when you get so many people tearing down your accomplishments or putting you down, it can play on your brain.
Tell me about your Night Angel costume. I understand it had special meaning for you, like there was a specific reason why you picked it.
They had given me three different options in the beginning, and I picked one of those options. But I just knew I wanted something with hands. I want to be able to move around. And a couple of weeks later, they hit me back and said, “What do you think of this one?” And when I saw it, I was like, “This costume is perfect.” I always say my brother is my guardian angel. … My brother passed away [in a car accident] when I was 15 years old, and I promise you that I feel like there’s a guardian angel walking with me, guiding me here, guiding me there. He helps me. So in that aspect, the costume represents that. It just fell in my lap, really, because I guess somebody else probably was supposed to be the Night Angel before me, and it all worked out.
Were there any songs on The Masked Singer that you dedicated to your brother in your mind?
Actually, sentimental-wise, as far as songs that I performed, it was “Last Dance” by Donna Summer — because that was a song that as a kid, at my aunt's house, was the first song I ever learned the lyrics to. I remember the aunt had this record player, and I used to play that all the time and I would take her hairbrush and pretend like I was singing. To do that song as an adult now and show people, it's crazy to me.
Didn’t you and Donna Summer once work together?
Yes, I had an opportunity to collaborate with her. It was a really great experience, but it was also funny at the time. We were writing together — myself, her, and my friend Annie Roboff. And I remember there was something Donna wanted to put in the lyric and I was like, "Oh, no, I don't think we should do this." And I remember Annie saying, "Well, you know Donna, maybe we should just go with what Kandi said, because she's new-school and we're old-school." And I remember Donna looked at me and was like, "OK then, ‘new-school’!" I was like "Please don't be mad at me!" I mean, to work with somebody that you’ve seen as an icon your entire life, it's just so hard to guide them if you don't feel like they're doing something right. Because those people, you put them on a pedestal. You know what I'm saying? It's hard to say, "No, that's not good. You shouldn't do that," because it's like, “Who am I to tell you?”
Well, speaking of divas like that, how does it feel to realize you outlasted Chaka Khan and Dionne Warwick on The Masked Singer? That must blow your mind!
I was shocked. So check this out: They had broken everybody in three groups in the beginning — A, B, and C. I was in Group C. So they were in Group A and Group B, and I had to watch them perform before I went on the show. Their [brackets] had started airing right when I was about to start my performances. And when I was watching it, of course I recognized their voices, and I was like, "Oh my God, how am I supposed to compete against Chaka Khan? How is this going to work? This is not happening! You’re putting me on a show with Chaka Khan?” I couldn't believe it. In my mind, I automatically was like, "Oh well, I might as well kiss this one goodbye." She's an icon. Her voice is amazing.
But then I got to the top nine performance where they have the top three from each group — and I didn't see her there. I was just kind of like, "Whoa. Chaka’s not here." That's when I started thinking, "Wow. She's somebody that I put on a pedestal, and to say that I've gotten this far and she's not here… “ No dis to her; obviously I love her. But it just helped me feel like, "OK, maybe I am good enough to be in this competition. Maybe I could be strong in the show."
Do you think that being on The Masked Singer will help the public’s perception of you in that regard?
Even if we didn't change that perception for everyone, I feel like the show changed it for me. Because at the end of the day, yeah, I know there are some people on the show who are not necessarily “real” singers. But there was some real singers on there. And there was real performances on that. I mean, much love to [runner-up] Jesse McCartney — he was a dope performer. Obviously Bow Wow [who came in third] is a killer performer. And of course, Chaka Khan. There was definitely some legit people on there who are strong performers and who sold hella records. I mean, Lil Wayne was on there!
At this point, I don't really care what other people say. What I do know is it's not meant for everybody in the world to like you. But there are a lot of people who watched and did get to appreciate my voice. There's a lot of people who didn't even know me. There's a lot of people who never even listened to my music before, when I was in Xscape, who said, "This is my first time getting to know you, and I thought that you did a great job." So that made me feel good, to be able to gain new fans from being on the show — and also open up my world to those people who maybe did listen to my songs a long time ago, who were just like, "Where have you been? Let me hear something new from you!" Those comments made me feel good.
Well, besides the Masked Singer exposure, you have probably gained a new audience from having your songs sampled or interpolated by other artists, like TLC’s “No Scrubs” on Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” or *NSYNC’s “Makes Me Ill” on Ariana Grande’s “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I'm Bored.” Do you have any future writing, or samples of your older songs, coming up that you can discuss?
You know, it's amazing that in these last two years, I've had so many people sample my songs. It's crazy. I've been shocked at how many people have redone a lot of my songs recently, which I'm appreciative of — because basically it adds a whole new copyright for me, and obviously another check! [laughs] So for me as a writer, that is a best thing in the world. And yeah, there are some more songs [sampling Burruss’s work] that are coming out currently. To be honest with you, I can't name them all off the top of my head, but there are a few that are ready to come out soon. I know we got one that sampled “Bills, Bills, Bills,” and it was dope.
That early-2000s sound you pioneered is coming back. You have to write some new hits for some new artists!
Oh, I had some sessions that were already set up for me to collaborate with some artists who are currently doing big things right now — but then this whole quarantine happened. So now I got to revamp how are we going to work it out. Are we going just online sessions or how are we going to figure it out? But it’s happening.
And in the meantime, you just dropped your own new single, “Used to Love Me” featuring Todrick Hall. Tell me about that.
I wanted a song that people could dance to, more upbeat, and something that could cross genres. Because that’s the thing — before coming onto The Masked Singer, I felt like I was stuck in a box. I was stuck in the R&B box, and people don't want to hear you try different things. But on The Masked Singer, I sang every genre of music. And so that made me feel like, “You know what? I don't have to be in a box when I put out the music.” Because I’ve just shown people that I can do any type of music that I want.
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